Five Fascinating Facts About… Robert Aickman

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Winkled out by Annabel Gaskell

1.  Although we’ve come to know Aickman as an author, he was a prominent conservationist. In 1946, he was a co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association. The IWA is a charity dedicated to campaigning to conserve, maintain and restore Britain’s canal systems, which were in a bad way at the time. They are one of the UK’s most successful conservation organisations.

2. While he was working for the IWA, Elizabeth Jane-Howard was a part-time secretary for the organisation. At the time she was married to IWA Vice-president Peter Scott, the naturalist, and she and Aickman had a brief affair, although he apparently carried a candle for her long after.  She wrote about it in her memoir Slipstream (2002), describing it thus:

‘At some point, Robert and I became lovers. I never found him physically attractive, but in all other ways I was under his spell. He became my mentor; he taught me things I was eager to learn. He made verbal love to me, which I enjoyed. He flattered me, telling me how good and wonderful I was, and this sank into me like water into dry sand. I confided to my father about this affair, and he, immersed in his own, was understanding.’

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3.  Although they can be regarded as horror or ghost stories, Aickman preferred the term ‘strange stories’. He wrote just forty-eight of these tales, which were collected in eight volumes from 1951 onwards, one of which was published posthumously.

4. From 1964 to 1972, Aickman was the editor of the first eight volumes of The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, contributing an introduction to each volume. In his preface to the 4th volume he says ‘Ghost stories inquire and hint, waver and dissemble, startle and astonish. They are a last refuge from the universal affirmative shout.’ Aickman distributed six of his own tales amongst the eight volumes, alongside classic stories by M.R.James, Wilkie Collins and many others.

5.  Aickman died of cancer after a long illness on 26 February 1981. He had refused conventional treatment in favour of homoeopathic mistletoe injections.

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Annabel is one of the Shiny New Books Editors.

Read our review of some of the latest reprints of Aickman’s Strange Tales here.